Ant-Man and other not-a-classic graphic novels

So in 1962, Marvel’s Tales to Astonish anthology series had scientist Henry Pym shrink himself down and become “The Man in the Ant Hill,” as captured on Jack Kirby’s cover. With super-heroes becoming popular, they turned him into the astonishing Ant-Man, whose first few years have been collected in ANT-MAN/GIANT MAN: The Man in the Anthill by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and multiple others.

Marvel in its first couple of years was turning out a lot of crap, leavened by the talent on view in Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. The quality of the work improved over time, but Ant-Man never caught fire. It’s slow, dull stories and Kirby’s artwork (not that he’s the only one working on it) never rivaled Gil Kane’s dynamic work on DC’s Tiny Titan, the Atom. Adding the Wasp and turning Hank into Giant Man helps some, but not enough; like a lot of relationships from the era, Hank/Jan hasn’t aged well. And even after they’ve acknowledged they love each other, Lee keeps forgetting and treating them as if the word is unspoken.

I do like the emphasis on the nuts and bolts of Hank’s work, and how he has to train to do what he does. But ultimately this is nothing I’d recommend except to completists. I wouldn’t have bothered if I wasn’t rereading the Silver Age — though as I am, I admit it’s a shame the remaining ten stories won’t be collected (I don’t think I want to pay to read them on Marvel’s streaming service). This volume ends with Giant Man and the Wasp battling the Hulk, who then became the backup strip; less than a year later, Sub-Mariner would get Hank and Jan’s pages (not A-list Marvel either, but much more successful).

WITCH FOR HIRE by Ted Naifeh has a high school freshman forced to sit at the Loser Table where she meets Faye, a surly practicing sorceress who’s perfectly happy as an outcast. But when a mysterious spirit starts pushing kids into increasingly destructive pranks, Faye discovers she can’t totally ignore the rest of the world … This was enjoyable Y/A but suffers from a villain reveal that comes out of left field.

NOBLE CAUSES: In Sickness and In Health collects the first few issues of Jay Faerber’s comic (he wrote, multiple people drew) about Earth’s greatest superheroes, the Noble family and all the drama in their life. Here the family super-speedster, Race, marries a normal, unremarkable girl, Liz — and when he dies on their honeymoon, she’s stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional family with an unknown killer out to get them.

When this originally hit the stands, Faerber explained the premise: modern comics are mostly soap opera so why not a series that emphasizes the personal drama and backgrounds the heroics? Not a bad idea, but after a couple of issues I lost interest. It really wasn’t that distinct from the kind of team drama I could find in any X-Men book, nor were the heroes that memorable. That said, this was pleasant to read, but I don’t have the itch to buy a second volume.

ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG: Sect Civil War by Fred Van Lente and Khari Evans follows the heroes break-up in the previous volume by having Armstrong pal around across time with his uninteresting brother Ivar, Timewalker. Meanwhile the Sect’s collapse into civil war convinces Archer the only way to stop the world sliding into chaos is to take things over himself. Lively but inferior to earlier volume, feeling more like a set-up for the new direction than a standalone.

TIME BEFORE TIME Vol. 1 by Declan Shalvey, Rory McConville and Joe Palmer also spends way too many pages setting up for future issues. Time travel is a thing and protagonist Tatsui works for the Syndicate which uses it in multiple ways — shipping refugees from dystopian eras to better ones, bringing miracle drugs from the future and so on. Only now Tatsui’s latest fare is  a female FBI agent, a rival time-travel group is on his butt and his own bosses want him dead. Readable, but not compellingly so.

#SFWApro. Covers by Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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